PM has begun sounding like CM Modi of 2002

Modi has begun sounding like the first term chief minister he was in the winter of 2002. (PTI File Photo)

There is a sense of déjà vu to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's election speeches and rallies. Beginning from his first election speech in Meerut on March 28, where he kick-started the party's campaign to the ones he delivers even as you read this, it is difficult to determine if the language used is of the prime minister, elected in 2014 courtesy successful messaging of the promise of development and change.

In place, with the vituperative speeches and imagery he conjures venue after another, state after state, Modi has begun sounding like the first term chief minister he was in the winter of 2002 when leading his first electoral battle. Back then, there was little he could do but justify the Gujarat pogrom in the aftermath of ghastly Godhra carnage and he did this with macabre precision.

The question, thereby, arises if the prime minister is facing a similar crisis where despite his claims of forming a full majority government, to him and his advisers in private, another term in office is beginning to look uncertain. So has this prompted a change of tack from the development spiel that dominated his storyline or electoral pitch in 2014, to the twin planks of Pakistan-centric national security and communal polarisation.

Sample this: He labelled the Congress party as anti-Hindu and asked Hindu voters not to cast their lot with the party. At another place in Western Uttar Pradesh, known for a significant Muslim electorate, he said that a "conspiracy is being hatched" (remained silent about who is conceiving the diabolical plan) to divide India again. In the same vein, he added voters (Hindu) must remember “atrocities” committed against 'them' and the “injustice” against 'their' daughters during the 2013 Muzaffaranagar riots.

He reminded people that the Samajwadi Party was then governing Uttar Pradesh, adding it was now a partner in the mahamilawti or adulterated alliance against him. He did not mention that the riots triggered communal polarisation in the state and greatly contributed to the BJP's sweep of the state. He also did not disclose that more Muslims than Hindus were killed in these riots. Although for us the fallen have no religion, but for Modi the dead are always selectively chosen. 

At another meeting, at Wardha, Modi accused the Congress of "defaming crores of Indians" by using the term Hindu terror. This was in the context of recent court judgement on the 2007 Samjhauta Express blast case where the accused, including Swami Assemanand, connected with the Sangh Parivar, were acquitted.

Modi upped the ante by referring to the term "Hindu terror" wrongly used by then Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde in February 2013 and then hastily retracted after uproar. But he again selectively sidestepped the plaint of the Panchkula special court judge who heard the case. Damagingly, he claimed the prosecution "withheld" the "best evidence" which was not brought on record. Furthermore, he asserted that several independent witnesses were not examined or cross-examined after declaring them as hostile because they were unwilling to support the prosecution case.

Analysis of Modi's speeches since the Pulwama terror strike and India's retaliatory air strikes on the Balakot terror facility establishes Modi at his theatrical best with unambiguous intention to arouse passions. At his first meeting in Churu, Rajasthan after Balakot, he began by making a leading assertion when looking at the crowd: your mijaaz or sentiment appears different...And followed this with a wry smile.

The tactic immediately became comprehensible: Play the Pakistan card to such an extent that it obfuscates every issues save national security. Alongside, if people or any party raises questions on the veracity of the strikes, whose narrative has been questioned by US government sources and the Pakistan Prime Minister, Imran Khan, promptly portray them as being hand in glove with Pakistan. If anyone raises concerns over government handling of internal security matters, project it as an unpatriotic act.

Who is a greater enemy, this narrative goes: The enemy or the advocate of the enemy?

The target however, in all speeches of Modi and his party colleagues, is Pakistan. But it is used as a metaphor or a proxy for the Congress party, other Opposition leaders or parties, non-embeded members of the media, civil society, independent-minded academics and of course Indian Muslims. They comprise what Arun Jaitley has added to the Sangh Parivar's political lexicon: Tukde-tukde gang, although the phrase emerged from a digitally manipulated video.

This explains references to Pakistan interspersed with mention of 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots. It is similar to the emphases in Modi's 2002 speeches.

Back then, in September 2002, he had already embarked on his campaign and was addressing a meeting at a place little north of Ahmedabad. In his urgency to demonstrate normalcy in the state to convince the Election Commission to hold assembly elections swiftly, Modi had shut refugee camps for displaced and insecure Muslims.

In this meeting, Modi disparagingly referred to these shelter home as "baby producing factories" and said sarcastically, Ame paanch, Amara pachhees! (We are five and we have twenty-five!) The other day in a TV discussion, one of the RSS' spokespersons claimed there were intelligence reports that Muslim fertility rate had spiked in the six months they were in the camps!

Modi in 2002 whenever referring to the then Chief Election Commissioner, stressed his middle name: James Michael Lyngdoh and reminded people about Sonia Gandhi's Christian roots. Additionally, he connected other dots on the minority canvas by recurring references to General Pervez Musharraf as Mian Musharraf, emphasising the title used ubiquitously by Muslims, including in Gujarat. Like before, this time too, Pakistan has been dragged into the campaign narrative to consolidate Modi's majoritarian base.

This is evidence of lack of confidence in 'achievements' and deliverables of this government. It shows there is realisation that if the election is based on basic bread and butter issues it may well be extremely difficult to win.

In 2014, a large number of ideologically agnostic Indians cast their lot with Modi in the mistaken belief that he had cast his 2002 past away. This time it will be difficult for the BJP to win unless it has significantly added to its ideological ranks over the past years. The tone and tenor of Modi's speeches are an attempt to garner the wavering votes and consolidate the Hindu vote by using populist nationalism and majoritarian campaign.

[Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay is a Delhi-based writer and author. His latest book is 'RSS: Icons Of The Indian Right'. He has also written 'Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times' (2013)]

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PM has begun sounding like CM Modi of 2002

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